Proud to Be an American

Kip Tips

Proud to Be an American

My immigrant husband shares which personal finance freedom he has enjoyed most in the U.S.

I apologize for not posting a Kip Tip June 11, but I took the day off to watch my husband become a U.S. citizen.

I was struck by a quote from an Armenian immigrant printed in the program for the naturalization proceedings: "You who have been born in America, I wish I could make you understand what it is like not to be an American all your life." My husband was born in Ukraine, which was part of the Soviet Union for most of the 20 years he lived there. Clearly, the freedom he has had in the U.S. has been greater than what he had back in the U.S.S.R. I wanted to know, though, which personal finance "freedom" he has enjoyed most in America (this is a column about money, after all). His response surprised me.

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"Personal checks," he said. He was amazed when he came to the U.S. as an exchange student in college that businesses accepted personal checks as a form of payment -- basically implying a deep, underlying trust that people would make good on their promise to pay. In Ukraine, he said, banks offered checks to customers, but they never caught on because stores wouldn't accept them. The trust just wasn't there. Cash still is used for most transactions in Ukraine -- in fact, some people carry suitcases of cash for large purchases.

Could you imagine stuffing a rolling suitcase full of $100 bills and wheeling it into the dealership to buy your next car? Sure, paying with cash has its advantages (like not racking up credit-card debt). But hauling around a bag of money screams, "Rob me!"


That lack of trust in Ukraine goes beyond retailers not accepting checks. People don't trust banks. Many Ukrainians, including my husband's family who still live there, keep most of their money hidden in their homes.

You're probably saying to yourself, "What about the financial meltdown in the U.S.? Can we really trust the banks with our money here?" As long as your bank is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., your money is guaranteed -- up to $250,000 per depositor.

So if you're stuffing money under the mattress (as some do in Ukraine) instead of putting it in a high-yield savings account, money-market account or CD, you're missing an opportunity for your money to grow. See How to Earn More on Your Savings for top-yielding accounts. If you want to earn more than the bank provides, consider two alternatives that each yield 3.5%. If you're willing to take some chances, consider these 17 investments that pay more than 5%.

What do you think are the biggest differences among the ways people handle money in the U.S. and abroad? Share your experiences in the reader comment box below.